CH23: The Martial Emperor and his Grandson

Han Ruzi could feel the gaze behind his back.
It was like a long-reaching arm, wanting to pull him back, but also hesitating.
He did not stop his steps, and continued walking three steps down the pedestal.
The gaze behind him appeared to grow softer, though it could just be his imagination.
From here, he was closer to the senior officials.

He could tell the nature of the Empress Dowager’s gaze from the faces of the senior officials.
At first, the officials appeared frightened: this meant that the Empress Dowager was taken aback and dissatisfied.
Soon, the officials appeared confused: this was because the Empress Dowager did not stop the Emperor.
Finally, they regained the humble appearances a subject ought to have, looking downwards at the Emperor’s feet: this meant that the Empress Dowager had given her tacit approval to the Emperor’s conduct.

Han Ruzi’s heart was still pounding, but he did not regret his decision.
He continued walking forward, getting closer and closer to the Heir of Qi, Han Ling.

“Your Majesty…” Chancellor Yin Wuhai slowly got up, wishing to stop the Emperor from getting close to such a potentially dangerous person.
But after looking at the direction of the throne, he got back on his knees.

The officials shuffled themselves on their knees to continue facing the Emperor.

Of all those present, Han Ling appeared the most shocked.
He watched as the Emperor walked closer, unable to say a word.

“When We were little, We came to this hall once.” Han Ruzi paused, looking around.
“We don’t remember how old We were, just that it was a summer afternoon.
It was here that We saw the Martial Emperor for the first time.
It was hot outside, but cool within the hall, though it was also gloomy.
We were standing… there.”

Han Ruzi pointed at a pillar by the door.
All eyes followed his finger, including Han Ling.

“There was no one else in the hall, only the Martial Emperor and Us.
The Martial Emperor sat… there.” Han Ruzi turned and faced the Empress Dowager.
The Empress Dowager looked down at the base of the pedestal.
Prince Donghai and the others near the throne looked in surprise at Han Ruzi.

“The Martial Emperor did not see me.” Han Ruzi said, as an image appeared in his mind, perfectly merging with the hall in front of him.
He tried hard to recall, even forgetting to use the royal pronouns.
“The Martial Emperor was thinking about something.
I did not dare approach, and remained peeking from behind the pillar.
And then I heard the Martial Emperor say — he did not see me so he was speaking to himself — he said…”

Han Ruzi tried even harder to recollect.
It was like that sentence was swirling in his mind, like willows in the wind, like feathers floating on water.
Finally, he grasped it.
“The Martial Emperor said, ‘We are alone’”.

The Hall of Diligent Administration fell into complete silence.
Suddenly someone sobbed, drawing everyone’s attention.

 The one who sobbed was Jing Yao, the Director of Palace Attendants.
Initially, he was standing on the second step of the pedestal in front of the throne.
But at this moment, he turned around and knelt in front of the throne — not facing the Empress Dowager sitting on the throne, but the throne itself.
“That was indeed something that the Martial Emperor used to say.
When the Martial Emperor… thought that no one was around, or was very engrossed in thinking about matters, this line would be said.
Other than a few close attendants, nobody else would know of this!”

The officials who were in disbelief at first, now mostly believed what Han Ruzi had said.
Only Han Ling remained obstinate.
“Heh, what a convenient tale: you were alone, the Martial Emperor was alone, and the only one who can corroborate your tale is a eunuch.”

Jing Yao’s corroboration was not something Han Ruzi had expected.
He had his hopes on a different person.
He pointed again, this time towards Chancellor Yin Wuhai.
“I remember him.”

Yin Wuhai was shocked and his mouth was agape.
His body trembled and he did not know whether to agree or not.

“Not in this hall,” Han Ruzi added, the image in his mind becoming clearer.
“I did not dare go before the Martial Emperor, and quietly went out.
I met Chancellor Yin at the door.
At the time, I did not know that he was Chancellor.
I remember running into his leg, and he wore robes with a large bird embroidered on it.
I ended up on the ground after falling, and Chancellor Yin picked me up.”

Everyone’s gaze now fell on Chancellor Yin.

Yin Wuhai was kneeling at first, but now, he was sitting on the ground.
This old man actually started wailing out loud.
“That was me, that was indeed me.
June of Year 36 of the Zhongmiao era, the Martial Emperor summoned all his sons and grandsons.
His Majesty must have been only four or five, and for some reason he was left alone in Qinzheng Hall.
At the time I was not Chancellor, just the Chief Censor of the Right.”

This time, nobody else had any doubts.
Han Ruzi continued and said, “Later, the Martial Emperor walked out of the Hall and saw me.
He laughed and said, ‘This Ruzi is worth teaching’.
That is how Our nickname came about.”

The story that Mother had told many times became clear in Han Ruzi’s mind.

Wails and sobs filled the hall.
Everyone recalled the resolute and fearless Martial Emperor.
If he were still alive, a single grunt would get any lord to rush to kneel before him from beyond a thousand li.
To think that in less than four years, the Imperial army would be defeated by a mere Prince of Qi.

Han Ruzi looked at Han Ling and said again, “We are the son of the Graceful Emperor, the grandson of the Martial Emperor.”

Han Ling’s face flickered between red and green as he seemed to hold back his words.
Finally, he knelt and bent his head, unwilling to speak and unwilling to say “Your Majesty”.

That was enough.
Han Ruzi turned around and walked towards the throne.
The officials were still sobbing as they nearly lay prone of the ground.

On the throne, the Empress Dowager shifted to the side to make space.
Han Ruzi sat beside her, his heart beating even more quickly, his legs feeling weak and flimsy.

“Well done,” the Empress Dowager said softly.
She then looked towards the officials and said, “We hope that this is the first and last time that anyone questions the identity of the Emperor.” She paused for a moment before continuing sternly, “If anyone seeks to mislead the people with devilish tales, that would be an unpardonable crime.”

In truth, other than Prince Qi and his son,  nobody had publicly doubted the Emperor’s identity.
The debate between the officials was about how to fight the Qi forces, and whether Grand Tutor Cui ought to take responsibility for his defeat in battle.
But the Empress Dowager got to the crux of the issue: the officials needed to be completely convinced of the Emperor’s legitimacy for them to genuinely put in their best efforts.

The debate in the Hall of Diligent Administration quickly resolved itself.
After the Empress Dowager got the officials to rise, everyone started condemning Prince Qi.
Han Ling, the Heir of Qi, remained kneeling, and quickly became the target of everyone’s renunciations.
More than one person smashed him with their Hu baton.
The Empress Dowager had no choice but to get Han Ling taken away.

The officials proceeded to put forward their proposals, with some recommending generals, and some recommending a retreat followed by diplomacy… Finally, the officials banded together to put forth concrete solutions.

Han Ruzi gradually grew calm.
He once again felt like things had nothing to do with him.

Before long, Yang Feng pointed out that the Emperor seemed tired, and with the Empress Dowager’s permission, escorted the Emperor back to the Grand Consort’s Cining Palace to rest.

“Your Majesty should not have done that.” Once they entered the room and the other eunuchs and servant-girls were dismissed, Yang Feng sternly voiced his objection.

“Should not have done what?” asked Han Ruzi.

“Draw the attention of the Empress Dowager and the senior officials.
Nor should you have participated in the conflict between the Imperial Court and Prince Qi.
Keeping yourself out of it would have been the best choice.”

Han Ruzi refused to accept that.
“You said that because I am Emperor, there would be those who would take the initiative and contact me.
You were referring to those young nobles, right?”

“Did someone come into contact with Your Majesty?”

Not a single one.
No one even so much as dropped a hint.
So I felt that I had to at least do something, to let others know that I am an Emperor worth contacting.
Just like you, Lord Yang — it is because you don’t think I’m a hopeless case, that you are willing to help me.”

Yang Feng was stunned.
This was not the first time he was awed by the Emperor’s early maturity, but the speed of the Emperor’s growth still exceeded his expectations.
For a moment, Yang Feng had no words in response.

“Your Majesty… It was still too rash.
The Empress Dowager will be more weary of Your Majesty in the future.” Yang Feng did not wish to encourage the Emperor’s risk taking behavior.

“There are pros and cons.
We’ll have to see what happens — the pros might well outweigh the cons.”

Yang Feng sighed lightly.
“Those things that Your Majesty said… Were they true?”

“I have some vague memories.” Han Ruzi did not wish to lie to Yang Feng, and hence he spoke sincerely.
“To speak the truth, I do not remember Chancellor Yin.
I just thought that he might very well help me corroborate my story.
Jing Yao’s reaction was unexpected — that statement is etched in my memory but I do not remember who said it.”

“What about ‘this Ruzi is worth teaching’?”

“My mother always spoke of this story.
I think it should be true.”

Yang Feng sighed again.
“Your Majesty, do rest well.
I shall instruct the servants to bring you your meal.”

“Am I to stay here in the future?” Han Ruzi could smell the thick scent of perfume in the room, something which he disliked.

It is for Your Majesty’s safety.”

Yang Feng turned to leave, but Han Ruzi still had things to ask.
He quickly said, “Prince Donghai’s teacher, Luo Huan-zhang, spoke to me about righteousness and benevolence.”

 “Luo Huan-zhang is an accomplished Confucian scholar.
Your Majesty would do well to listen closely to his words.”

“But the things he said were different from what you said.”

Yang Feng realized that he could not treat the Emperor solely as a young child.
Moreover, now that he was residing in the Grand Consort’s palace-chambers, the opportunities for them to speak in private would not be many.
Yang Feng decided not to beat around the bush.

“From the perspective of morality, schemes are a means to an end; from the perspective of schemes, morality is merely a useful, highfalutin symbol.
In my view, both views are too extreme.
Only when one has an unburdened heart, can one act freely.
If one distinguishes between morality and schemes, one leaves behind traces of how one thinks and acts.
One cannot deceive oneself, nor deceive others.
The Founding Emperor’s advantage over King Zhuang and King Chen was in not choosing one extreme over the other, maneuvering freely between cunning schemes and righteous benevolence.”

Han Ruzi was unable to completely understand.
“I do not understand… For example, how should I deal with those young nobles?”

“Your Majesty need only remember one thing: Your Majesty may be selfish, but there must be a limit to that selfishness.
That is, one must not be so selfish as to believe that others are not selfish.
Your Majesty would find it fruitful to extrapolate the desires of others from your own desires.”

Yang Feng left, leaving Han Ruzi more confused than ever.
“Why would I believe that others are not selfish?”

Slowly, he grasped some insights.

The door silently opened.
The one who entered was not a eunuch delivering the Emperor’s meal.
Instead, it was Meng E.
She had been sent to protect the Emperor.
Perhaps she had arrived earlier, only that she did not enter the room.

“I can teach you inner qi now,” Meng E said.

It was at this point that Han Ruzi had an epiphany.
Meng E wished to teach him inner qi, because she could tell that he had a chance at becoming a true Emperor.
She was not some blindly loyal subject — she had her own personal desires.
It must be a very great desire, for her to enter the palace as a guard and to take the initiative to teach him inner qi.

“I wish to learn, but we must first gain each other’s trust.” Han Ruzi needed to understand what her personal desire was.

Meng E gave a puzzled look.
She had thought that the Emperor would be desperate to learn from her.
“How would we gain each other’s trust?”

“Tell me first, what’s the story behind the wound on the Empress Dowager’s wrist?”

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